Five Killed as Finance Bill Protests Escalate in Kenya

Peaceful protest devolved into chaos as Police crackdown leaves 5 dead, dozens injured, and 12 missing in Kenya

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Social unrest escalates in Kenya during protests.

Mia Boykin 

Update: On June 26, Kenyan President William Ruto withdrew the 2024 Finance Bill due to the deaths of civilians in protests. Another wave of protests occurred after this story was published, in which the death toll rose to at least 23 people.

In an escalation of violence, at least 5 people were killed, and 31 injured, in Nairobi, Kenya on June 25th as police fired live ammunition at demonstrators. This death toll underscores the growing tension in the country, where protests against a controversial finance bill have been ongoing for weeks. Reports have also been released that 12 people have gone missing. 

The casualties occurred during the latest round of demonstrations, part of a nationwide movement dubbed “7 Days of Rage.” These protests, which have been building in intensity over the past week, reached a critical point with Tuesday’s “total shutdown” of the country. The protests have also gone international, with protests surrounding the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, D.C. on June 24th. 

A coalition of activists, lawyers, and medical professionals reported on the grim statistics. “At least five people were shot dead and around 31 were injured. Of these, 13 were hit with live bullets, four with rubber bullets, and three with launcher canisters,” stated a joint release from organizations including Amnesty International Kenya and the Kenya Medical Association.

The protests, which have been gaining momentum for several weeks, are in response to proposed tax hikes in the Finance Bill 2024. What began as peaceful demonstrations have now evolved into a prolonged period of civil unrest, with each day bringing new confrontations between protesters and law enforcement. The protests have been largely led by young people, making the death toll even more gruesome for the world to look upon. 

In addition to the death toll, at least 31 protesters were injured, as the police used tear gas, rubber bullets, or canister launches to control the crowd. Auma Obama, half-sister of former U.S. President Barack Obama, was teargassed during a live CNN interview. “I can’t even see anymore, we’re being teargassed,” Obama told CNN’s Larry Madowo as she protested alongside a group of young Kenyans. 

Despite the violence, President William Ruto expressed a desire for dialogue with protesters, stating he was “proud” of them. However, concerns have been raised about potential human rights violations.

“Despite the assurance by the Government that the right to assembly would be protected and facilitated, today’s protests have spiraled into violence,” the joint statement continued, highlighting the deteriorating situation.

The violence goes beyond the protest, as reports of 12 people going missing in the middle of the night ahead of Tuesday’s protest came to light. Amnesty International Kenya’s executive director, Irũngũ Houghton, told CNN, “We have about 12 people unaccounted for who have been picked up, in many cases, by people who are uniformed or not uniformed.”

The protests come at a time when Kenya’s international standing is on the rise. Just a few weeks ago, President Ruto visited the United States to meet with President Joe Biden.  Biden designated Kenya as a “major non-NATO ally,” marking the first time a sub-Saharan African nation has received this status.

As the protests continue with no immediate resolution in sight, the death toll serves as a sobering reminder of the high stakes involved in this ongoing conflict. The government’s response and the protesters’ next moves will be crucial in determining whether Kenya can find a peaceful path forward or if the country will face more days of violence and unrest.

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